A common content creation practice involves going to industry influencers to ask them to contribute their thoughts on specific topics that are prettied up and pulled together into an e-book, a Slideshare presentation or maybe a video. The intent of said content vehicles is to amplify the companies message, increase interest and demand, as well as generate leads. The strategy does work. I’ve contributed many times to various campaigns through the years, and I hear from the project organizers about the positive lift that the company gained in new lead opportunities to pursue.
But, what do the expert contributors receive in return? For the most part, exposure.
I contribute my expertise, which evidently these companies see as valuable or they wouldn’t ask me and others to contribute our knowledge, but what they offer us in exchange for our contributions is exposure. Oh, it sounds good when the company says they will get your name in front of thousands of people on their list, but the problem with exposure is this… exposure doesn’t pay the bills. There’s also no way of predicting if anyone consuming the content will even try to connect with you to learn more.
That doesn’t mean that exposure isn’t valuable, especially if you are in the early stages of making a name for yourself. At a certain point, though, the exchange should have a lot more value for both sides. I will still make a choice now and again to contribute something without being paid, but only if I’m receiving something else of value that I know makes the investment of my time worth it.
The content is ready, please market to your networks. For free.
As part of the content strategy I’ve described, once the publication is finished, the second ask is for everyone who contributed to the project to market the piece for FREE to their networks. Now the value exchange has become more lopsided. I’ve contributed my advice for free, and now I’m marketing the content for free.
Time has a dollar value.
And that lopsided equation becomes bigger when you factor in the time it takes to write something each time a company asks you to contribute your expertise. Answering your topic questions, writing a blog post, giving you a quote – these things take time. Once the publication is ready, it takes time to cue up and share with my networks or through my newsletter. You might be asking, why bother sharing the content then. Good question. It must have something to do with our human psychology. I suppose because we are “featured” in the content, we naturally want people to know about it.
In only one recent circumstance, has anyone asking for my free advice, free time and free marketing, offered to give me something of higher value than exposure. This one company offered, in exchange for my support, to give me the list of names they collect when running the content campaign. Now, that’s something that makes the exchange much more palatable. More than receiving exposure, I want to be able to actively engage with the people who downloaded the eBook, blog post or white paper I contributed my time to help create.
In the past year, I’ve been saying no more than yes to these requests. More and more of my colleagues are also pushing back. They either say no, present their fee schedule or ask for the list. In other words, we need to earn something for our investment of time, which is a fair exchange.
Pushing back has generated some interesting but not altogether surprising results.
Recently, I had an exchange with the CEO of a technology start-up who approached me – a stranger I might add – and asked me to write a blog post about his company’s technology and then link it back to their website. My audience is his target market and he believed they would be interested in his product. After briefly reviewing his website to learn more, I said I would help him and presented my fee. I told him that I receive too many requests for free, and there must be something in it for me too. A fair request, as far as I’m concerned. His answer was that just like I didn’t believe in doing the work for free, which he said he understood, he also didn’t believe in paying to advertise his product. Wait. What?
Another request came from a marketer who wanted me to contribute to their eBook. I asked if they paid for the contribution or were they providing the contributors a copy of the list of people who registered to download the gated content. No. They don’t pay fees. And, they can’t give the list to contributors because of their email policy that they don’t share emails.
Here’s the problem with all these FREE requests.
It isn’t an equal exchange of value and that’s not cool. When I contribute my expertise to your lead generation projects, I’m helping you put leads in your sales funnel but what are you doing for me beyond giving me exposure? I know this is a common marketing practice, and I think it needs to stop. If you want experts to lend credibility to your projects, projects that you are using to generate leads for your company’s products, you should be willing to give something in return that has tangible value beyond exposure. Free doesn’t cut it!